Title: Karate's Grappling Methods
Publisher's site: Summersdale
Amazon link: Karate's Grappling Methods
Price £15.99
ISBN #: 0-9538932-0-0
Date: 2000
Author/s Iain Abernethy

Book cover showing a variety of karate grappling techniques

Karate's Grappling Methods

As an avid fan of kata bunkai, I’m always on the look out for anything that attempts to supplement our kata explanations. The fact that books such as this exist at all, attests to the fact that other styles have no more plausible bunkai than we do.

I attended an Abernethy seminar on bunkai, at which he discussed his theories on close-quarters fighting. He was an immensely likeable and humble man, who had a prosaic, down-to-earth style that I liked, and I was hoping that this book would continue to expound upon his theories.

As the title explains, the book is all about the grappling, locking, and throwing techniques that Abernethy believes are hidden within the kata that we perform. Whilst I concur with this belief wholeheartedly, Abernethy shares his bunkai as if they are unassailable fact. Let’s make something clear, Abernethy has not gone to Japan and spoken to all the masters, nor has he raised the ghosts of the kata creators and asked their advice. He has simply applied his knowledge of grappling to kata. Now there’s a saying that goes, “A man who only has a hammer, sees the solution to every problem in terms of how hard things can be hit.” Abernethy is a very competent martial artist who has acquired some judo or ju jitsu skills, and he approaches every kata in terms of this knowledge. A classic example is kata taikyoku shodan (first kata). He looks at the second turn and declares that Funakoshi was showing us how to throw somebody to the ground. There is little room in his world view for the possibility that the turn was merely a movement exercise, or an overly formalised way to make a 180 degree turn, or a good way to emphasise the hips in a turn, or a simplified introduction to the merits of the kosa dachi stance.

Having said that, unlike his Bunkai Jutsu DVD, whose bunkai range from insightful to highly contentious, the majority of the material in this book is quite plausible and helpful.

Abernethy proposes a number of theories about self-defence and kata bunkai that are both provocative and valuable. However, he sometimes takes situations out of context and over-simplifies in such a way that he completely distorts the reality of the situation. For instance, in pointing out that arm bars are not designed to control opponents using pain compliance, he says, “It is impossible to restrain a violent attacker on your own. You would need around four or five people to have a good chance of success.” This contentious statement appears to assume that you are unable to effectively apply arm bars or other nerve, or joint locking techniques. The entire point of developing expertise in these areas is surely so that one can immobilise opponents using the minimum destructive force necessary, or so that if you encounter an enraged opponent, you can use technique to counter adrenaline-induced strength?

He makes numerous other contentious statements such as, “[for a strike to stop an opponent it must] not be avoided or blocked (even partially).” I would argue that you can sometimes partially avoid or block a punch to the head and it will still drop you. Another example: talking about the use of elbows he says, “Elbows should only be used when close in; you should never try to close the gap in order to use them.” This is a statement that is wide open to misinterpretation. In his seminar, Abernethy himself teaches, moving closer if blows are thrown at medium range and they catch you by surprise. This is a book to which you will need to apply a great deal of critical thought, and as such, I would not recommend it for students below 4th kyu.

Having said all that, the book has much valuable information, and is a wholly invaluable tool in the arsenal of anyone attempting to unravel the secrets that are hidden within kata. It demonstrates an approach that teaches you how to analyse kata critically, attempting to interpret all the elements of a movement, rather than discarding elements that fail to fit into your bunkai. It’s a real pity then, that Abernethy falls into this very trap, when he himself, advises against it.

We do almost no grappling at all within GKR, so this book provides a crucial insight into an aspect of kata that we so desperately need to explore. Our style functions well at distance, but is next-to-useless in the clinches. Abernethy’s book helps to redress that balance, offering techniques for many common situations. I do fear however, that some of them, particularly the throws, have been over-simplified to the degree where one may take a mistaken belief about their appropriateness or ease of use.

Abernethy is one of too few martial artists who are deeply exploring this facet of kata bunkai. Some of what he says hits the nail on the head, and some is distinctly dubious, but at least he has the courage to share his theories. Just remember though, that that’s all they are – theories.

A highly accessible, and worthwhile book, that makes a lot of sense, but don’t take everything Iain says as gospel.


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